Penguins hire Matt Cullen for player development role
During Matt Cullen’s three seasons as a player with the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Mike Sullivan often said he considered the veteran center an extension of the coaching staff.
Now, Cullen actually will be an extension of the coaching staff.
Cullen, who announced his retirement after a 21-year pro career last month, was hired Thursday by the Penguins to work with the team in a player development capacity.
“Cully was a cerebral player with great leadership skills,” Sullivan said in a release. “He is a natural coach who will offer great insight to our coaching staff and to our players. We look forward to adding him to our staff.”
As a player with the Penguins, Cullen often was credited by younger forwards ranging from Jake Guentzel to Bryan Rust for helping them acclimate to the pro game. Having played 1,516 NHL games, 19th-most in league history, there were few situations Cullen hadn’t encountered.
Take Tom Kuhnhackl, a former Penguins winger who frequently played on the fourth line with Cullen from 2015-17. Kuhnhackl said he was nervous when he met a player with a resume as long as Cullen’s.
“I didn’t know how to talk to him. I didn’t know how he is around the younger guys,” Kuhnhackl said. “But he came up to me and talked to me and asked me if I needed anything. He helped me out a lot.”
Cullen tutored Kuhnhackl in one area of the game in particular.
“He helped me understand the defensive role, because he’s obviously really good at that,” Kuhnhackl said. “Being that reliable defensive centerman, he knows how to play that role and he taught me so much about that.”
Most of the ex-players employed in player development for the Penguins — director of player development Scott Young, player development coach Tom Kostopoulos and goalie development coach Andy Chiodo, for instance — work with prospects and young pros.
In announcing Cullen’s hiring, the Penguins said he will work closely with general manager Jim Rutherford and the NHL coaching staff.
“Matt’s knowledge of the game and understanding of our organization will make him a valuable asset moving forward,” Rutherford said in a release. “With over 20 years in the NHL and three Stanley Cups, we are certain he will continue to have a positive influence on our players.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .